CHARLOTTESVILLE — After handling Northeastern 33-7 on Aug. 21 to begin its season, 2A No. 2 Eastern Hancock knew the visiting Knights would be out for vengeance Friday in the opening round of sectional play for both teams.
Northeastern did just that, coming out mad while limiting the Royals’ offense to just five total yards (375 per game average) of offense in the opening quarter.
However, despite the slow start, Eastern Hancock (10-0) took care of business the rest of the way and cruised to a 35-0 win, holding Northeastern (7-3) scoreless for the Royals’ third shutout of the season.
The injury bug didn’t help the Knights much as junior Ryan Hartmann, who led the team with 986 rushing yards during the regular season, was out Friday due to a leg injury. Eastern Hancock’s defense took advantage.
“It says a lot (about our defense),” junior running back Devin Denny said of the shutout. “When our offense isn’t clicking, our defense in there to back us up. It helps that only two players go both ways (offense and defense).”
The Knights started aggressive with an 11-play drive but failed to register any points, burning nearly five minutes off the clock. That would be the trend in the opening quarter as neither team mustered much offense or momentum.
“The first half, I was extremely nervous,” Denny added. “We came out a little lackadaisical, and sometimes we do that.”
The Royals got on the scoreboard first in the second quarter, though, after one turnover and three punts to begin the game. Senior running back Matt Bowman, who totaled 111 total yards of offense in the first half, used a 55-yard touchdown run with 6:46 remaining to give Eastern Hancock an 8-0 lead.
Bowman added his second score of the game (16th of season) just before the break, capping a six-play, 85-yard drive with a 3-yard run to give the Royals a 14-0 halftime advantage.
Denny, the team’s leading rusher, was limited to just 37 yards on the ground in the opening half.
That quickly changed in the second, as the junior speedster nearly doubled his total with a 62-yard touchdown run from the first play of scrimmage, giving Eastern Hancock a 21-0 lead just 20 seconds into the third quarter.
On the ensuing Royals possession, Denny took the ball on first-and-10, and again, added a big touchdown run, this time from the 50-yard line to give Eastern Hancock a commanding 28-0 lead.
“In the second half we moved the ball a lot better,” Denny said. “My line kept pushing for me.”
Denny finished with 168 rushing yards and three scores in the game. He added a 17-yard touchdown catch from sophomore quarterback Jarett Lewis in the third quarter (35-0).
Lewis finished 4-of-7 passing for 94 yards and one touchdown after throwing two incompletions and an interception to begin the game.
The Royals advance to the Sectional 38 semifinals next week but will do so on the road. 2A No. 8 Indianapolis Howe beat Milan Friday and will host Eastern Hancock next week.